Nowt Poncy Food Company. No Bulls**t.
The Nowt Poncy Food Company is run by husband & wife team, Jools & Karen. We found their no-nonsense attitude to good food very refreshing, and it peaked our interest. Half an hour of research later, we'd learned that despite supplying dozens of independents, including the prestigious Booths (a chain of high end food and drink stores in the North West of England), all of their cooking sauces are made by hand, from real ingredients. Oh, and they also do all of their own bottling, packaging and sales.
Jools and Karen are incredibly hardworking and their brand is a testament to their efforts. We really appreciated them taking time from their busy schedule to talk to us!
Can you describe Nowt Poncy in a single sentence?
Great tasting, high-quality products and services without the bulls**t.
How did the idea of Nowt Poncy come to life?
We met in the 80s and enjoyed going out for a meal. However, we lived through the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ era and became frustrated with the ‘ponciness’ of the food. When we went out for a meal, if we enjoyed it (and it had to be good quality food without a load of fuss) we would say that ‘there was Nowt Poncy about that’ and add it to a virtual bistro menu we had. The virtual bistro was called Nowt Poncy!! As time has passed, when we eat out, we have found that the emphasis has shifted from the food to the presentation of the food. Convenience foods, developed for busy families, are loaded with sugar, fat, salt and additives. We have always cooked at home using fresh, high quality ingredients. All our sauces are what we eat at home, there is no nasty stuff in them and they have a great shelf life without the additives and preservatives that many other products like ours have! After a change in our circumstances we decided to bite the bullet and started a food company in 2016, and what else could it be called other than The Nowt Poncy Food Company?
How has Nowt Poncy grown and developed since you founded it?
We started in our home kitchen and it soon became too much to cope with at home, so we rented kitchen space from another artisan producer. We then moved to a local college catering kitchen which was closer to home and stayed there for over a year. When we were informed that the college was closing its catering facility we needed to find somewhere else. We looked and looked but there just wasn’t anything local-ish that gave us what we needed, so again we bit the bullet and rented a unit and built our own commercial kitchen. We now have a wonderful cooking space, an office and a warehouse of our own. And all built predominantly by Jools.
Can you tell us a bit about how you think you’ve achieved your growth?
We have worked incredibly hard over the last three years. We have researched, learnt, developed networked, learnt, done more research, developed, more learning and learnt a bit more. We started the business in our 50s, which in some ways has been challenging–not least of all because of energy levels needed and the understanding of the place of social media in today’s sales market. However, starting a business later in life (!) means that we have a lot more life experience and an ability to engage with people in ways that a younger person may not be able to. We have an amazing work ethic and have a fabulous network of unbelievable artisan producers who all support each other. We have learnt so much! The need to learn about the area you choose to enter is vital to your success. If you don’t have the information you require, it’s a sure-fire way of leaving yourself open to issues that could cost you money and/or your reputation.
In an age of outsourcing, you guys do all of your own production. Can you tell us why?
By cooking it ourselves we are able to control the quality of our product. We currently hand cook our sauces in small batches. As soon as it scales to the amounts made in an out-sourced facility the cooking process changes. Once the cooking process changes the flavour changes (and quite possibly the quality as an out-sourced facility will source ingredients that are cheaper in order to improve their margins and make it easier for them to produce). Once the flavour changes all sorts of other ingredients have to be added to bring the flavour back to (or close to) its original flavour.
We read a story about you recently that revealed you had managed to get a free plug on Radio 2 with Sara Cox, which lead to a rush of orders. Do you think that was your favourite thing that’s happened while running Nowt Poncy?
When Karen was on the radio she really wasn’t expecting to talk about the business as the BBC don’t like to advertise. But the researcher she initially spoke to asked her about it and then Sara Cox asked her about it as well! It was pretty amazing that Sara said she had seen us on Twitter!!
There are a lot of ‘favourite’ moments; every time someone tastes what we make and loves it enough to buy it, meeting the most amazing people (customers and fellow producers), working together – which we never thought we would be doing, building the kitchen, being able to give back to the community but one of the best moments was seeing our products on the shelves of Booths and knowing that people we don’t know across the country have our sauces and pasta in their cupboards and enjoy what we make.
You’ve recently opened a development kitchen to help other businesses who are just starting out. Can you tell us more about it?
When we wanted to leave the confines of our home kitchen, we found it so difficult to find a facility that would allow us to use a larger kitchen on an ad hoc basis and it was stressful that we needed to produce larger amounts but didn’t have the space at home to do it. When we left the catering college kitchen we just couldn’t find anything suitable. It started to dawn on us that we weren’t alone and that if we had our own commercial kitchen, we would be able to give home producers the opportunity to scale up without it costing the world! It is important to us to promote small businesses and what better way than to help them scale up!
You’re a husband and wife team. That wouldn’t work for a lot of couples, but it’s obviously been great for you. What tips have you got anyone who is thinking of starting a business with their partner?
Jools has run his own businesses for 30 years, and I worked in education for about the same amount of time. Having a complementary set of skills works really well, as well as being clear on where we want to be. The ability to communicate is vital. There will be heated discussions but any disagreements to do with the business should NEVER be taken home!
We have always had a strong relationship and working together could put that to the test but we communicate well, ensure we are both on the same track and that we both have our own roles within the business. Being able to discuss each other’s’ roles is also important in order to get a different perspective and how your own role impacts on the other.
Where do you see Nowt Poncy in five years’ time?
The Nowt Poncy® brand is trademarked into 11 different areas. Whilst we have started with a food brand the aim is to diversify into other areas using the same focus – great products without the bull!!
So much of what the consumer accesses is built on making money for the business owners rather than what the consumer wants – a high-quality product/service that does what it says it will and with no hidden catches or charges.
In 5 years’ time we will be in our 60s! We can’t see that we would want to stop completely but perhaps we will have others in place who can take the business forward in more areas than just food!
What advice have you got for anyone thinking about trying to start or grow their own food business?
Do your research. The legislation around food businesses is huge. We have seen some companies who have not done their research who have hit obstacles which have then cost them considerable amounts to put right. By taking a little more time and researching it properly, things can be done right the first time and won’t result in costly errors. You need to be VERY clear in your understanding of what you are doing, your product and the laws around it. These days it’s all too easy to ask Google for help or take the easy option and ask others for information, but you need to dive in and do the research yourself so you have the depth of understanding of your area that you need. People can be very generous with their time. This is great but don’t take the mickey – they have businesses to run too and have spent many, many, many hours learning themselves. Be proactive when dealing with others in this situation.
It is also really important to have down time! As a small business owner you will work long hours and periods of time with no breaks. You need to make sure you give yourself time to top up the batteries.
Being tired can lead to making mistakes and can affect your health. If you are ill then the business will be affected and you cannot work effectively. You need to remember that just because you work for yourself you do DESERVE some rest time – you’re probably working harder than you’ve ever worked before and with far less money to show for it.
You need to be prepared for the financial black hole your money seems to disappear into. It is so expensive to start getting products onto shelves. Product development, research and development, branding, testing, nutritionals, labelling, marketing, producing, etc., etc., etc. Regardless of whether you have goals to sell on a market stand or aim to hit the supermarket sector, all of these things need to be done, and it is very costly.
You also need to know your demographic, your aims, where the money will come from to do what you want to do, and also when to stop!
Is there another entrepreneur who you find particular inspiring?
We have met some fantastic entrepreneurs in small and larger businesses but anyone who has the conviction and guts to start their own business and develop it to something they are able to make a living from is an inspiration.
We are fortunate to be part of a group of North West producers called North West Food and Drink Means Business run by Paul and Dawn Caunce. The group is full of producers that are able to offer support to each other on a wide range of food business related issues/challenges. The group is on Twitter @fdmb and anyone can join the group.
Finally, can you give us a quick rundown of a typical day at Nowt Poncy HQ?
There isn’t really a ‘typical day’ as there is so much to do!
Up at 6.30am, breakfast, feed the cats and lots of COFFEE!!!!!! Down to HQ between 8 and 9am and a quick chat about the day. We don’t cook every day but when we do we spend the full day in the kitchen and then the following day labelling and boxing product.
If we’re not cooking, then we could be doing any one of a number of jobs. Because it’s just the two of us, our days are never the same. We do everything from sourcing ingredients, prepping, cooking, labelling, boxing, ordering, taking orders, delivering, social media, accounts, marketing materials, sales, tasting sessions, markets, cleaning schedules, and on and on it goes. We leave when everything is done so we’re putting in long hours and working at least 6 days a week.